Further Tour Notes

Some more notes on the Tour de France route…

RIP the Prologue?
With the opening time trial of 14km, it means it’s a full stage rather than a prologue. The last prologue in the Tour de France was now a decade go in 2012, when Fabian Cancellara won in Liège. There is an arbitrary definition of a prologue vs TT: less than 8km. But it’s not the label, rather the absence of prologues as events can reward short distance specialists and even sprinters who can rail corners and surge out of corners. Now the sprinters are likely to lose so much time on the opening Friday they won’t have a chance of taking the yellow jersey.

Few Sprints
A missing prologue is only the start of the sprinters’ woes. At most there are six stages for the sprinters in 2022 compared to eight on paper for the 2021 route. But just as last summer’s Tour saw several potential sprints derailed by crosswinds, attacks and more resulting in five bunch sprint finishes, for 2022 there are six bunch sprints at most but there could be just four regular stages for the sprinters.

Stage 2 could be shredded by crosswinds on the Great Belt bridge, which is 20km long and makes the 5km section of Neeltje Jans and the Deltaworks on the opening stage of 2015 (pictured) look like a seaside stroll. Stage 4 on the cliffs above Calais could see the field reduced again. Stages 13 and 19 look like sprint finishes but given the paucity of chances for sprinters some teams might leave sprinters at home and those who do pick one will have to think hard about whether to bring a big train in support… which means the breakaways have a slight advantage as there’s less horsepower to chase. All this is still subtle, teams with famous sprinters will still back them, their percentage chance of a win is probably still higher than bringing a climber or a breakaway baroudeur but it could alter the composition of teams.

Still if that percentage chance of a sprint win is reduced ans this becomes a trend – this year’s Giro had few sprints as well – then there’s a structural change in the sport to look out for, sprinters and their trains could become less valuable.

No Active Rest Days
Sprint stages don’t work so well on TV, you can often tune in with 20km to go to watch the “4×4” breakaway get caught and the inevitable sprint happen. But sprint stages also have another underappreciated role: they’re active rest days for 80% of the bunch. Sure the final moments can be frantic for the GC contenders as they try to avoid a crash but it’s still a relatively gentle day on the bike for many and allows many to recover from past efforts. The result is that riders can attack the following day as they’re more refreshed. Only 2022 doesn’t offer many much of this meaning the route can leave many tired all the time. Whether this means riders cracking… or riders huddling because they’re worried about cracking remains to be seen.

Crash risks
Remember all the crashes in the first week of the Tour de France? There was a lot of buzz about this in the moment and all sorts of ideas and suggestions in the heat of the moment about race safety, course design and sprinting in general. That’s all gone quiet but now is probably the time to be thinking about risks.

New Roads
Scared of the Roubaix cobbles yet? Excited? That’s the point. There are no five star sectors and some are quite rideable but the mere inclusion of them adds to the buzz. The “new” pavé sections come from the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque race, just as the “new” climb of the Col de Spandelles comes from the Route d’Occitanie and this is not new with many local races first using roads before they’re adopted by a big grand tour.

Talking of new, one of the striking features of the Tour de France Femmes is the chemins blancs, the gravel tracks in the champagne vineyards. There’s a good chance we see these roads with the men’s course too and the Tour has looked at using the Tro Bro Leon ribinou off road sections too.

Old Roads
But there’s not that much new, one theme to this year’s route is revisiting a lot of old haunts. Except Pau.

Mountains competition
The mountains competition was exciting this year but ended on a flat note when those battling for the jersey each day were overhauled by Pogačar. This year’s route might help enliven the competition as the Alps offer a chance for the climbers to score more here. By contrast at Le Tour de France Femmes the mountains competition can be a contest along the way but risks being an accidental win by the eventual overall winner as well given the overlap with the Grand Ballon and Planche finishes.

Which teams?
If the route is known, which teams will take part is the remaining question. All the World Tour teams get to start but will there be 18 or 19 of them? Probably 18 with Qhubeka-Nexthash struggling to find sponsorship for next year and it can’t file for its licence yet as the funding isn’t there. If it’s 18 World Tour teams then the UCI rules say the best two Pro Teams on the rankings from 2021 get invited and this means Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic. Which leaves two wildcard invitations left and Total Energies and B&B Hotels are the obvious candidates. If Qhubeka gets an 11th hour rescue then it’s bound to be Total Energies given they’ve hired Peter Sagan.

It’s not a Tour for sprinters at all and it’ll be interesting to see if this is the start of a trend or just a blip. The route is relentless, or about as relentless as it gets for a 3 week grand tour with few predictable days but this doesn’t guarantee exciting racing, as a week without sprint stages could be frantic but can also leave many tired for later and so they defend rather than attack. The course can put a lot of pressure on the team holding the yellow jersey, imagine if Pogačar takes yellow thanks to the opening TT and the Planche des Belles Filles, would his UAE team be able to control the race every day?

16 thoughts on “Further Tour Notes”

  1. You wrote: “All the World Tour teams get to start but will there be 18 or 19 of them? Probably 18 with Qhubeka-Nexthash struggling to find sponsorship for next year..”
    Ah, “Heinie’s Folly” = 18 teams duking it out for 19 World Tour places. Merci Mr. Mars!

  2. Sprinters likely to be selected: Bennett, Jakobsen (or Cavendish), Démare, Kristoff, Ewan, Mathews, Degenkolb, Philipsen, Bouhanni, Sagan et Coquard, and staying at home: Groenewegen. That looks a pretty good field to be fighting for the few stages which suit.

    As for the accidents, the reduction in team sizes was said to favour rider safety though the 2021 edition hardly justifies that – unless we can say reduced numbers after the first week’s crashes helped during weeks two and three. The real problems seems to be pressure on the riders and French roads becoming more complicated by the year with new roundabouts, mini-roundabouts, bollards, chicanes, traffic humps…appearing everywhere. The solutions are not obvious.

    • Some likely picks, UAE have hired Ackermann but good luck getting into their Tour team… but that’s sort of the point here, they probably can’t spare much room. And for all the riders listed, how many of them full trains? You’d back Ewan as much as possible but also like to have, say, Van Moer, De Gendt, Kron, Campenaerts etc saved for the breakaways too.

      Nobody knows how many roundabouts there are in France, only that their number has soared and estimates say that about 4 per day have appeared, every day, for the last 40 years. We’ll see this year if the new TT reduces the pressure but we’ve had giant crashes and big stress in years with opening TTs before too.

    • Despite his success in last years tour I would be surprised to see Cav back again if Jakobsen stays upright, as much as people want him to break Merckx record.

    • I’d be interested to see what would happen if you had a 160km time trial. There’s no way to properly chrono ride that distance and without the slipstream and team dynamics it would likely bring some surprises. I’m not convinced it would mean that the best riders would be found out. But add it as flatish (but technical stage), no time checks, after a big mountain stage and we might see some riders suddenly climbing through the race (and others sunk without a trace). It’s also the way your average rider does a sportive/Grand Fondo albeit with closed roads. It’d be an interesting experiment anyhow.
      You could also allow drafting (on a practical POV) so that there’s an advantage to riding hard. It’d generate some interesting tactics (the slowest rider in the race might be encouraged to slow and wait for the second slowest rider). You might naturally get riders forming up and tactics formed.

  3. I think something’s got mixed up in the prologue paragraph. Presumably you meant to say that prologues can reward short distance specialists and even sprinters, rather than the absence of them?

    • The reader can – and has to – imagine a “such” or a “these” between “rather the absence of prologues as” and “events can reward short distance specialists and even sprinters”.
      As a rule without exceptions we can assume that if something we read doesn’t make sense or appears a bit astounding, it’s not because the Inner Ring has suddenly become strangely stupid or silly or embraced some totally baseless opinion 🙂

      • That, with the addition of a comma between ‘prologues’ and ‘as’ would be an equally possible correction.

        It’s also a rule without exception, though, that Inrng welcomes the flagging of such issues, and hasn’t just put them in as a challenge to the reader.

        • For the record: it wasn’t my intention to be snarky or to make fun of your comment. It was just that your asking “Presumably you meant?” had amused me greatly. But then I’m a little bit odd 🙂

  4. One way to liven up one or more sprint stages would be to make it/them more like a points race with a sprint every 20 km or so. No cruising along for 200 km with a 200 m effort at the end.

  5. I find it odd that prologues seem to be dismissed out of hand now. I would’ve thought that a Friday evening 5km prologue in a city centre during prime time TV territory would be ideal as a curtain raiser? It’s a short blast, ideal for the short attention spans of casual TV viewers.

    • My memory might be foggy but wasn’t the “prologue” just a dodge to get an extra day of racing in under the UCI’s Grand Tour limits? As such, I can’t see it being missed much despite the alleged appeal to people with attention spans measured in seconds rather than minutes.

      • In that case it’s even stranger. The opportunity for an extra days racing with its associated sponsorship, TV and hosting revenue you’d think would be snapped up.

  6. Especially if it was used well to create a Friday night showpiece event in a major city with the racing going on into the evening, perhaps making use of a major stadium to get big crowds in at the finish location.

    The UCI, however, in 2005 applied their usual policy of clamping down on innovation without realising this was actually a good one. A prologue now counts as a full racing day with the only difference being that a rider who crashes doesn’t need to complete the course to start the next day.

Comments are closed.